Opinion

COMMENTARY: Mountain bike trails will enhance, not ruin, islanders’ experience at Dockton forest

By DAVID WARREN

For The Beachcomber

I first witnessed young mountain bikers working on trails in Dockton forest several years ago. I was surprised and pleased to see kids not only actively involved outdoors in something other than organized sports, but putting in long hours of hard labor to improve the trail experience for bikers.

In initial meetings with these young bikers, I found they were enthusiastic about developing a well-thought-out, safe trail system for bikers that would be done in a "Vashon way" — not too loud, or as they put it —done with LIP (the least impact possible). They didn't want to change the forest, just "enhance the mountain biking experience" in Dockton Forest. And that is how the project objective to create a system of mountain bike trails was started — not an effort to build a mountain bike park, but to simply enhance the mountain biking experience there.

The group reached out to other island groups, particularly the equestrian community, which shared many of the existing multi-use trails. The group of mountain bikers was told by leaders of the equestrian groups that the most important thing to them was that the existing multi-use trails be left as they are. That became one of the principles of the bike trail proposal. In the final mountain bike trails design, the dedicated bike trails only join with the main multi-use trail once.

Other trail users have more options. There are numerous trails on the island that are limited to hikers only and other private and public trails that are intended for horses only (including Paradise Ridge Park‚ a Vashon Park District park). It seems reasonable that there be some trails dedicated to bike use. Dedicated bike trails might even reduce the bike traffic on multi-use trails, reducing the potential for accidents and trail use conflicts.

The bike group also developed a trail plan that called for simple cross-country trials to be built first — a first phase to the project. These trails would be built for beginner and intermediate skilled riders. The outreach portion of this first phase has concluded, and construction is set to begin soon.

With hundreds of young people being trained in mountain bike skills at McMurray Middle School and the Harbor School, there is a real need for more beginner and intermediate trails to accommodate these new riders. At the same time, there are many older riders who would also enjoy these easier trails. These simple cross-country trails would have less impact on the forest and would not create a large draw from off-island riders. The quiet nature of Dockton Forest would not get overwhelmed as a regional biking destination, as would be more likely if the trails were downhill thrill or gravity line trails.

Once this first phase is completed and tested, we can see how it all works and make a decision whether a second or third phase seems appropriate.

I hope King County and the Vashon-Maury Island community will give these young bikers a chance. They are a credit to their sport and our community, and they deserve a place to recreate on the island.

— David Warren is managing director of Vashon Forest Stewards, an island nonprofit dedicated to maintaining healthy, native forests. He is also a longtime mountain biker.

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